This fic is a little different from any au we have done before.  In other words, this story is creepy (very creepy), scary (pretty dang scary), gory (HELLA gory), a little disturbing (”little” is putting it a bit lightly), and character death (LOTS of character death).  This story is rated very very explicit, very much a rated R film category and above.  So, you have been warned, READ AT OWN RISK.

This story will be in 6 parts, from now until midnight~

Until Dawn, part one~

Ectober Week, Day 31, BAD END


The stars were beautiful on the night that it all came to an end.

Jasmine Fenton leaned against the windowsill, watching the sky with a wistful expression, her long copper hair fluttering in the bitter wind off the willows.  A young woman of eighteen, she was pretty for her age, but not yet filling in the grown-up skirts, makeup, and button-downs that she had adored on botique-store hangers since she was ten.  She had always prided herself on her maturity, her inability to be fooled or lied to.  She liked to think no one would want to lie to her, since she tried to be an easy person to talk to…

She sighed, hugging herself as the chilly wind brushed its fingers over her again.  Well, that was another story.

“Hey, Jazz!”

Jasmine turned, her blue eyes smiling patiently at Tucker Foley – another kid at this adult party.  “Hey.  I’ll be down in a second.”

“Okay, well, don’t shoot the messenger!  Your parents were asking where you were, so—Yo, you okay?”

Jazz glanced out over the grounds of the old Masters plantation, hesitated… then nodded.  “Yeah…” she murmured quietly, unconsciously searching the blackness.  “Just peachy.”

She turned her back on the night and went inside.

Wind whispered secrets through the cattails and the fluttering ribbons of willow branches, carrying the black smell of the nearby marsh up to the front of the plantation owned by Mr. Vladimir Masters.  It was an old-looking house.  An ancient stone wall circled the miles of grounds, cracked in places and crawling with vines… but the lawn was manicured to perfection and the house was like something out of a southern tourist catalog, with its flawless white finish, crown molding, and two floors with a balcony overlooking the rose gardens.  Willow trees taller than the house bowed over the lawn like crones in their old age, branches trailing like a grandmother’s fingers.  Soft and lingering, but smelling like death.

And the stars were beautiful… on the night it all came to an end.

~*~*~*~

Warm electric lighting welcomed Jazz as she descended one half of the double staircase, lingering just behind Tucker.  

The babble of the adults echoed against the classy molded ceiling, bouncing from clean mahogany floors and through the French doors of the dining room; Jazz and Tucker entered and sat down with their respective parents, who were currently so busy chatting, laughing, and eating finger foods that Jazz had a hard time thinking Tucker had come to fetch her because they asked.  Most likely Valerie and Samantha just wouldn’t talk to him.

She glanced up the table at the party of strangers.  All the parents – and the host – knew each other from their college days, but had very different careers.

The Foleys.  A traditional family of three, a father who worked the nine to five and a homemaker mom.  Tucker was a bit of a technophile, or so she gathered by the way he chattered about terabytes and the new iPhone 10 or whatever.

The Grays.  A single dad, working as a police officer, and his daughter Valerie, who seemed to be relatively well-rounded.  They ignored each other at the table, but it was a trusting, warm silence.  A relationship built on trust, Jazz deduced.

The Mansons were a different case.  They were a nuclear family from new money – approaching the billionaire status but not quite there yet – with two overly happy and chatty parents, and one extremely dour daughter, Sam, dressed in all black with a spiderweb shawl.  Jazz practically itched to get Samantha to talk about her feelings, from the angry tension in the air between her and her parents, but she was challenged to hold Sam’s eyes for a second, let alone talk with her.  Sam and Tucker seemed to know each other, though.  Maybe she could get Tucker to talk to her for her…

“So!  Vlad, how in the WORLD did you end up getting this place~?”

Jazz blinked in surprise, then turned around, brows raised, to see her mother leaning slightly forward, lashes lowered alluringly.  “It’s so nice!” Maddie Fenton smiled at their host.  “Very homey~”

“Hey, honey, you really gotta try these pigs-in-blankets, they’re SO GOOD!” Jack Fenton enthused, spraying bits of sausage and pastry over the table.  

Maddie wrinkled her nose slightly in distaste.  “Jack, that’s disgusting.  Not now,” she said.

The woman waved him off, and turned back to their host, smile back on her dark red lips.  Jack wilted a little bit, swallowed his mouthful, and sunk down in his seat.  He didn’t take any more of the h’orderves.

Jazz rolled her eyes, put a cheek in her hand, and drummed her fingers on the table.  Of course, the Fentons.  Dysfunctional family of three.  While her parents were both inventors, her dad was pretty much dead weight on their finances and both Maddie and Jazz knew it.  They could barely share a lab, let alone a bedroom; in fact, Jazz noticed her father had been sleeping in the guest room almost constantly this past week.  Yelling rarely happened, surprisingly, only when Maddie was REALLY angry.  Most of the time she just… ignored Jack.  For Jazz, that was almost worse than them constantly fighting.  

Yet another reason why she couldn’t wait to graduate, take that full ride to Stanford half a country away, and never have to step foot in that house again except for the holidays.

Jazz sighed, eyes wandering back down the table, deciding to take another eyeful of their host.  

The one and only Vladimir Masters.

Billionaire philanthropist, businessman, and winner of the Bachelor of the Year award for six years running, Vlad had attended the same college as the rest of them, but obviously he had went on to bigger and better things, amassing tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars after the course of his career.  He was a looker, too, incredibly muscular for a man in his forties – with long silver hair that he kept tied back – and a chiseled, handsome face, with the kind of slanted, cobalt blue eyes you only saw photoshopped onto people in magazines.  Right now, those eyes were twinkling with mirth as Maddie talked to him, her lips forming sweetly around his name…

Oh god.

Jazz blinked in realization.  Crap.  Her mother was flirting with Vlad.

She glanced warily up at Jack, but he was still pouting and didn’t seem to notice.  Big shocker there, he rarely noticed anything– ACK, what was she doing?!  

“Hey.”

Jazz startled, turning to her other side to find Valerie watching her with a raised brow.  The curvy, dark skinned girl was dressed in an orange sweater and red skirt, a comfortable costume in homage to the old Scooby Doo cartoons.  Dark eyes flicked up at the chatting adults, before zeroing in once more on Jazz.

“You’re Jasmine, right?  Heard from your dad that you got accepted into Stanford early.  You must be pretty excited by that.”

Both girls knew that Val didn’t really care about Stanford.  No, she was just an observant stranger, offering to be a distraction in a clearly uncomfortable situation.

“What do you plan to major in?”

“Oh… psychology.”

Jazz propped her head in her hands, glancing over at the younger girl.  “How about you?  You got any plans for college?”

“Plan to double major in forensics and criminology.  Gonna become a cop like my old man.”

Val’s smile was proud and cocky, but Jazz caught the look the girl’s dad sent her over his glass of sparkling cider.  Concern, exasperation, annoyance… and pride.  Seemed Mr. Gray wasn’t completely on board with his daughter’s career choices, but he also respected them.  She did seem like the strong, hard working type, if stubborn.  “I want to go to Boston, maybe New York, but we’ll see.”

Jazz brightened a bit at the clear goals of this young woman.  “That’s great!  I really hope it all works out,” she said, smiling.  “Geez, I’m super happy I met you.  I was afraid I’d have to hang out with my PARENTS the whole night.”

Val chuckled, popping a cheesecake bite into her mouth.  “I’m surprised Masters extended the invite to us kids at all.  Then again, it’s not exactly an overly FANCY shindig, is it~?”

“No, but I can definitely appreciate that.”

“You think we’ll get any gift bags when we leave~?” Tucker asked, butting in on the conversation with a grin.

“Mind your own business, man,” Sam muttered, shoving him.

“Hey!  If it means getting an 18-inch plasma screen tv gift bag, I’d do a lot~”

Val snorted, seeming to find the younger man amusing.  “Knowing these rich types, if there is any gift giving involved it’s either going to be something very little, or something extravagant.  Besides, there are rumors about Masters, you know.”

Tucker nodded in agreement, grinning.  “Heard he inherited a fortune from some long lost dead relatives, after coming of age or something.”

“It was the house he inherited,” Sam snapped, small fork clinking against her salad plate.  The salad was all she had touched at the dinner table that night.  “This manor belonged to his old ancestors, according to my mother… old blood money.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Jazz remarked with a smile.  

The look Sam gave her made her smile crack a little.  “Trust me, money is always a bad thing,” the goth told her.

Tucker rolled his eyes and elbowed her.  “Says the rich kid~!”

“That’s why you should take my word for it, dumbass.”

“Now, now, children!” Pamela Manson fussed, clapping her hands.  “Language, Samantha!  And I’m sure you can use your inside voices.”

Vlad raised a hand; everyone at the table went silent.  “It’s alright if the younger folk want to go off and explore,” he declared, chuckling.  “Not everyone wants to stick around to listen to us talk while dinner cooks.  Go enjoy yourselves!  Take instagram photos or whatnot.”

“Sweet!” Tucker exclaimed, not hesitating a second to jump up from the table and whip out his phone.  He clicked the face cam.  “Everybody say–!”

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!”

A bloodcurdling screech came from the kitchen.

The families all looked at one another…

Then, Vlad stood up, looking over the table.  “Emma?” he called cautiously, brows furrowed in concern.  “Is everything all right?”

There was a moment of silence…

BANG!

Everyone jumped again, then exhaled in disbelief and relief when it was just a young, flustered French maid.  “No no no, je suis désolé!  Vewy sorry!  I spilled hot broth on myself, but I am bettair now!” she insisted, gave a little curtsy, and ducked back into the kitchen to be sworn at – in classical book titles – by the cook.

Vlad sighed, then turned back to the kids with a smile.  “Well, there you go then.  I will have someone fetch you when dinner is ready.  Go on!  Run free~!”

No one needed to tell them twice.  Sam was the first one out of the dining hall, followed closely by Jazz and Val, with Tucker bringing up the rear with his plate full of finger foods.  His mouth was full as he talked animatedly, waving his phone around with one hand and snapping random pictures as they went.  “So where should we go first?  Maybe there’s a game room somewhere!  Or a home movie theater!  Oooohh~”

His voice dropped to a mock transylvanian accent as he creeped up to the head of the group, walking backwards as he talked.  “Or pewhaps we will find some old cweepy secwet wooms and tunnels, wooooo~!”

“Knock it off, Tucker.”  

The boy pouted, altering his stride to match Sam’s.  “Aw come on, I know you don’t like these kind of parties, but at least TRY to have fun.”

Jazz giggled a bit at that.  “So, how do you guys know each other?” she asked, feeling like she should take charge as the eldest.

“Oh, we go to the same high school,” Sam deadpanned, scrolling through her own phone.  She took a picture of a dead spider in the corner, a smile on her dark purple lips.  “We’ve known each other since eighth grade.”

“And in case you’re wondering, YES,” Tucker grinned.  “Sam DID hatch out of an egg!”

He got a few half hearted chuckles for that, and Sam didn’t even really respond to the jab.  Must have been an inside joke.  Val paused in front of an old black and white painting, studying it for a moment before following along with the rest of the group.  Tucker veered left or right occasionally to look in some of the rooms attached to the hall.  Some of the doors were locked, others lead to little studies or random rooms.  But the deeper they went into the manor, the more locked doors they came across, and the more the rooms seemed unattended.

“Big place to live alone…” Val commented, looking over the boy’s shoulder into a dark, dusty room.  “Guess it would be a bit much to keep all the rooms livable…”

“How long has Mister Masters lived here?” Jazz wondered aloud, looking up at the crystal chandelier that hung silently overhead.  They had reached the end of the hall, the space opening back up towards the grand front foyer of the manor.  The others started to climb up the stairs to the second floor.

“My mom says he moved out here after he graduated college,” Sam replied, admiring the oak banister.  “He was out of contact for awhile actually, had to deal with a lot of affairs, inheriting all this.  It was all before I was born though.  Before we all were.”

“Think there are any ghosts here?” Tucker smirked.

“I highly doubt it,” Valerie interrupted, wanting to stop that train of thought before it even started.  “There’s no such thing.”

Jazz hated to be the know-it-all, but hey, she was the eldest.  “ACTUALLY, there is collective evidence that ghosts exist…” she pointed out.  “I found a college thesis on it and decided to check it out for myself.”

She reached the end of the dark hallway, jiggling a locked doorknob.  “Turns out there’s a lot of proof of the paranormal.  Ghosts, the rake, vampires.  The only problem is that with a lot of the ‘proof,’ there’s no way to back it up or to disprove it.”

Sam finally looked intrigued by the redhead.  “Well, what’s your opinion?”

Jazz blinked.  “Well, like I just said, the FACTS state that–”

“What’s YOUR OPINION?” the goth repeated, crossing her arms.

The redhead hesitated, glancing between Valerie, Sam, and Tucker.  The bespectacled boy wasn’t on really on her list of preferred acquaintances, but she liked Valerie, and Sam really needed to be talked to about her relationship with her parents so…

“I… guess I believe in them?” she white-lied, shrugging.

Val raised a brow at her, turning around to face her with crossed arms.  “Really now?  And what kind of studies have you read to lead you to believe in fairy tales~?”

“Hey!  Fairy tales and all stories have at least a seed of truth!”  Tucker protested, defending Jazz a little since he was a bit of a believer himself.  “Some stuff just isn’t easily explained!  Who’s to say any of it isn’t real?”

“Oh what, like ghosts?”  Val questioned with a snort.  “Bigfoot?  Mermaids~?

“Less than 10% of the ocean has been explored by humans,” Sam said with a shrug, tone and expression neutral.  “Maybe there is something out there that’s like a mermaid or whatever.  It’s possible.”

Jazz held back a snort, trying to keep her voice politely interested.  “So, you believe in fairies?  Like, Oddparents kinda faires, or…?”

“The correct term, is ‘fae,’”  Sam said cuttingly.  “And they are nothing like the good little fairies Disney feeds you.”

“Oh boy, here we go…”  Tucker huffed, sitting down in a nearby chair.  

Sam ignored him and turned to Val and Jazz, face stony.  “The Fae are old world creatures, and they have been here long before humans.  The stories of their kind date back CENTURIES, and they are cruel and powerful.”

“Cruel?” Jazz parroted, frowning.  “So, not the wish-giving kind, I suppose…”

Sam actually laughed at that.  “Oh, they can grant wishes, but at a terrible cost.  They are cruel because we have polluted this world, killing the nature they were born with and poisoning the air and water.  They live in tiny pockets of the world now, hiding in thin veils, waiting to take back what was once theirs…”

“And this has been Sam Manson, the environment nazi,” Tucker deadpanned.  “Stop smoking and eating meat and cutting down trees, or you’ll get eaten by a fairy.”

“Oh nooooooo, Tinkerbell, nooooooooo!” Valerie keened, swatting at the air and laughing.  “Get me the fly swatter!”

“It’s not a joke!”  Sam snapped, hands on her hips.  But the others just laughed at her while Jazz smiled in sympathy.  Sam growled and walked off, the others chasing after her so as not to get separated.  

~*~

For a half hour or so they explored what little of the manor they could, swapping little stories about themselves and the like.  They found a large library that they had to bodily drag Jazz away from, and even a study, with a well-kept grand piano.  Surprisingly, Tucker knew how to play, and they enjoyed his talents before moving on.

Finally, as their bellies growled loudly in their ears, they made their way back down towards the dining hall from the other side, having walked in a complete circle.  

“It’s been so freaking long, dude, you think dinner is ready yet?” Tucker moaned.  His plate of h’orderves was long since licked clean.

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, geez…” Jazz muttered.

They turned the corner, opened the door, and something jumped out at them!!

“AH!!”

“What in the world are you four doing out here?!” Damon demanded.  “Dinner has been ready for fifteen minutes!”

Valerie grabbed her chest, heart racing.  “Dad!  Sheesh, don’t DO that!”

“I almost clocked you with a plate!” Tucker wheezed.

Sam stalked past him with a huff.  “We were exploring, like our host suggested.  Besides, it’s not like anyone came to tell us or anything!”

“We just made our way back,” Jazz soothed, speaking over Sam’s rough tone.  “The mansion is really big and we got turned around a few times, I’m sorry.”

The adults glanced up from the magnificent meal of medium-rare steak and potatoes.  Vlad raised a brow as knives and forks sawed into pink, glistening meat.  “I sent Hopson for you almost twenty minutes ago, did he get lost?” the man asked, somewhat jokingly.

“‘Hopson’?”  Tucker asked as he sat down, clearly finding the name amusing.  Val frowned though, remembering the old, balding butler that had taken their coats when they first arrived at the mansion.  She shared a confused look with Jazz from across the table.

“Um… we never saw him.”

Vlad glanced up, brows furrowed in confusion.  “What?  But–”

Another bloodcurdling scream sounded from the foyer.  

Maddie, who seemed to have been trying to draw Vlad into another conversation, frowned in annoyance.  “What in the world is it now?” she muttered.

“More soup spilling?” Tucker tentatively asked, sounding hopeful.  

Dead silence followed the shriek.

Then… as everyone fell silent… another sound emerged.

A soft drip.

Drop…

Val put down her fork, eyes scanning the room for the source of the sound.  “What is that?  A leak?”

She looked up at the ceiling, frowning.  “Where is it coming from?”

“It’s not coming from in here,”  Jazz muttered, slowly standing up from her chair, eyes trained on the double doors that lead back to the front foyer.  Damon was standing up as well, expression hard and vigilant as the cop in him emerged.  

“Perhaps everyone should stay here while I–”

“Oh, nonsense~!”  Pamela exclaimed, voice jubilant but exasperated.  “Let’s all go see what’s wrong, which I’m sure is NOTHING, so we can all get back to this wonderful feast our host has prepared!”

Vlad frowned… but patted Maddie’s shoulder reassuringly and left the dining room.  

The others followed him tentatively.

At first, when they all walked into the foyer, all that they saw was the small figure of Emma kneeling on the floor, staring up at the ceiling with her hands over her mouth.  Vlad huffed, rolling his eyes quickly, and stepped up to the young maid, touching her shoulder.  “Young lady, if you can’t stop this screaming I’ll let you take the night off and just go home,” he murmured, trying to be comforting despite his impatience.  “If your nerves are that raw–”

Something hot and wet landed on the back of Vlad’s neck.  Plip.

The billionaire jumped in surprise, immediately swiping it off his skin.  “What in the–?!”

His fingertips came away red.

Vlad paused… then, slowly, his eyes raised up to the chandelier.

There, among the ornate gold and crystals, Hopson hung like a grotesque, lump of prey, cocooned by a mass of his own intestines.  His stomach had been ripped open like a clump of tissue paper and the mucus lining left dangling at the edges, yellow-red in color and dripping to the floor.  The smell lingered by the ceiling, and only then did Vlad – and his guests – notice that Emma had slipped in a mix of odds and ends, pooled under the chandelier.  Her stockings were stained with red, and a clear fluid that didn’t seem to mix as well with the rest of it… something that seared at their nostrils… like the stench was burrowing into their sinuses…

Tucker scurried over to a nearby potted plant and promptly threw up, the smell of his bile sharply penetrating that of the lingering gore in the room.  It took a moment for the others to come back to themselves, all of them pale and in a state of shock.

Pamela was the first to scream.  “AHHHHHHHH!!”

She turned and hid her face in her husband’s neck, shrieking the whole while.  Jeremy was no better off, gaping like a goldfish as he hastily stepped back, dragging his hysterical wife with him.  Sam was staring at the body in morbid fascination along with Val and Damon, while Jazz had moved back to her parents, body shaking with nerves and horror.

“We need to call someone,” Damon finally said, voice quiet and stern.  “We need to call the authorities.”

“There’s no service out here!” Maurice Foley cried, holding his wife and son to him, who had finally stopped puking his guts, but had gone disturbingly quiet.  “None of the cells work!”

“There’s a land line installed here and in my office,” Vlad stated calmly, even as his hands shook.  “We can try calling out for help…”

“Who could have DONE this…?” Jack demanded, voice just slightly above normal volume in his hysteria.  “To get him up on the chandelier–!”

“JACK, could you just STOP?!” Maddie huffed, looking just as frightened as the rest of them, but a furious fire in her eyes.  She turned to Vlad, brows furrowed over burning eyes.  “Vlad, are there any weapons in the house?”

Vlad blinked.  “I… I’m not sure.  I think the gardener had a shotgun, but I told him to get rid of it.”

“Jazz, come with me!” Maddie commanded, taking her daughter by the arm.  “We’re going to find some weapons!”

“Mom, wait!”  Jazz protested, looking back towards her dad and Damon.  “We need to call the cops!  We shouldn’t get split up, either!  MOM!”

“If whoever did this is still out there, and near…”  Val murmured, speaking what they were all thinking.  “She’s right, we need to stay together.”

“Then we head for the gardener’s–!”

“STOP.”

Vlad’s voice echoed throughout the foyer.  The panicking people immediately fell silent, staring at their host.  Once he was sure he had everyone’s attention, he lowered his voice, but retained his authoritative tone.  “Hopson served me for half a decade.  I don’t intend to let him dangle here like a pinata,” the man said.  “If anyone will be so kind to volunteer, I wish to take him down.”

“I’ll help you,” Damon said, following Vlad up the stairs to help lower the chandelier.  Together they carefully lowered the massive light fixture to the floor, groaning under the weight of it as they clung to the chains.  Bellow, Jack came forward and carefully pulled Hopson’s body down, laying it on the floor as gently as he could.

“I got him!”

With a sigh of relief, Vlad and Damon pulled the chandelier back up to its place, tying it back down.  The chandelier swung violently, and a string of intestine slipped off…

And landed right along poor Emma’s shoulders.

“EEEEKK!!”

The girl screamed bloody murder, startling everyone as she came out of her catatonic state.  She jumped to her feet and threw herself around, desperately trying to get the gore off as she clawed at her neck and dress.  Angela Foley tried to subdue the girl, speaking in low, soothing tones, but she just continued to scream and wail in french before running from the room entirely, tears streaming down her face and her cries echoing down the hall.

Jazz startled, pulling away from her mom.  “W-wait, come back!  Don’t go off alone!”

“Emma!”  Vlad called, running back down the steps.  

Maddie whipped in the girl’s direction, apparently not taking too kindly to her hysterical antics.  “Young lady, come back here!” she snapped, on edge.

Before long, most of the party was running back towards the dining hall, searching for the missing maid.  

Tucker clung to his dad, looking around like a monster was going to come out of every shadow.  “W-where did she go?”

“She worked with him ever since she got here…” Vlad murmured worriedly.  He repeatedly turned the ring on his finger, and his eyes were haunted – almost feverish.  “I wouldn’t be surprised that she’s traumatized…”

“All the more reason to find her,” Damon said softly, keen eyes scoping out every door and window.  “We need to stay together, and in the state she’s in she could be as much of a danger to herself as to us.”

“But where did she GO?”  Sam snapped, turning around in a tight circle.  “We were right behind her, how could we have lost her?”

Jazz ran a shaking hand through her long hair, wide eyes following everyone’s movements, even as she herself was trying to calm her pounding heartbeat.  “She knows the halls better than us, she works here…”

She glanced up at Vlad, concerned.  “What about her rooms?  Would she have gone there?”

“Is there anyone else that works here?”

Everyone turned to glance at Valerie, startled by the question as no one else had seemed to think of that.  Vlad frowned at her.  “Well, the cook, Will Lancer, but he’s down in the… kitchen…”

He trailed off, eyes wide, then looked at Damon.  “You’re the police officer, what should we do?”

Damon met his eyes with a frown, seeming to think over the options before them.  

Finally, he nodded, and turned back the way they came.  “You said there was a landline?”

“Yes, I have a phone in the foyer and in my office.”

“Then this is what we are going to do,” Damon explained as he led them back to the foyer.  “We’re going to call the authorities, then while we wait for them we will find Emma and the cook.  Only then will we move, and wait for the police to arrive, in an open, safe environment.  Possibly the foyer or the dining room.”

“There’s also the study,” Vlad provided helpfully, leading Damon to the phone that sat on a granite bureau near the doors.  “We can lock the doors from the inside if needed.”

Damon nodded as he accepted the phone, dialed 9-1-1, and pressed it to his ear.

He frowned.

“There’s no dial tone.”

“What?!”  Jeremy cried.  “What do you mean there’s no dial tone?!”

Vlad took the phone and listened to it himself, frowning as he hung up and turned it back on, but still… nothing.  “It’s just static…”

“Someone cut the landline,” Val said quietly, eyes wide.  

Pamela wailed into her husband’s shoulder while Angela simply clung to her own husband’s arm.  Maddie, however, looked beyond ready to murder someone.  “Well then, what are we going to do now?!” she snapped.

Jazz hesitated, then gently touched her mother’s shoulder.  “Mom, maybe we should just… not respond with violence…?”

Eyes turned onto her as she continued, her young eyes still haunted by what they had seen.  “Let’s just… review what we know for sure,” she murmured, brows furrowed.  “You said that you sent Hopson about twenty minutes before we arrived.  The dining room is right next to the foyer, which has so much of an echo we could hear the drip of… yeah.”

The girl glanced up at the adults.  “This place is big, but it’s not monstrous, so he had to have been taken by surprise and immediately silenced. For neither of us to have heard anything, Hopson had to have been killed somewhere deeper in the house… disemboweled… and put up on the chandelier, all without a sound and in the span of the fifteen minutes that neither party could have heard him – or rather, known where he was.  So… considering someone intelligent killed him, this was meant as a rather colorful display.”

Jazz crossed her arms, trying to hide the slight tremble of her hands.  “We’re dealing with either a physically powerful, or incredibly inventive sociopath if this were the case.  My money is on the latter…”

“While all of that is true, that doesn’t exactly help us get out of this situation, or figure out how to send for help,” Damon responded, moving back once more towards the dining area.  “We should find the maid and the cook, and perhaps leave the grounds completely.”

He met them each in the eye, lingering on Maddie a second longer than the rest.  “Everyone should stay together, no running off on your own.”

The woman frowned, but nodded her agreement.  

Jazz was still frowning, thoughtful as she turned to face Vlad.  “We are the only ones here, out in the middle of nowhere…” she said.  “Did you only have three people on staff?”

Vlad seemed to hesitate… then frowned, crossing his arms.  “My gardener, Mister Sanchez, quit just last month, but he said it was because he claimed he felt ‘terribles ojos.’  Terrible eyes…” he replied, suddenly looking worried again.  He glanced up at his guests.  “He said he feared for his life.  He went missing, too…”

Murmuring picked up from the group, everyone a little unnerved that this could have been happening long before they arrived that night.  Damon opened his mouth to question further, but Jazz beat him to it.  “Do you have any enemies that you know would target you and those that worked for you?” she asked, unaware of Mr. Gray’s frown in her direction.  “Do you think anyone that WORKED for you could do this?  Has anyone else gone missing?”

Vlad’s worried expression dropped, leaving it cold and disapproving.  “Young lady, if you are accusing my staff of murder–”

“I’m not accusing anyone!  I’m just stating the facts–!”

“Miss Jasmine, there ARE no facts yet,” Damon said sharply, cutting her off.  “We have one murder, and a missing person.  Like you yourself said, this could be an old enemy of Mister Masters, or a sociopathic killer.  We have no facts or evidence to lead to anything further.  All you have is an educated guess, and that is not helpful in this situation.  It simply breeds paranoia.”

Jazz flushed scarlet in embarrassment at being talked down to by an adult.  She herself liked to think she was one…  but she knew the man was right and went quiet, turning away to regain her dignity.  Still, she didn’t apologize.  She still felt she was right, after all.

Maddie frowned at her daughter, lightly scolding her as Damon turned back to Vlad.  “We need to find the rest of your staff before we can move on.  Which way to the kitchens?”

“It’s just through here.”

The group followed after the two men as they left the dining room and entered a narrow hallway, likely leading to the servant quarters and passageways.  The lights blazed in the hallway, but now they seemed glaring as the party of twelve approached the end of the hall and a set of swinging double doors.

Vlad had only just placed his palms on the door, when a loud clatter and dull thud met their ears, like a heavy weight had hit the floor.

Thwak.

Something about it sounded… wet…

“Oh god…!” Jeremy Manson whimpered.  

He clutched his wife closer, fumbling for Sam; the goth girl squeaked, startled, then shook him off with a soft curse.  “Dad!” she hissed.

“Young lady–!”

“Hush!” Vlad snapped.

The party fell silent again.  The billionaire glanced at Damon, shoulder pressed against the door; he nodded, taking his position.  Vlad held up three fingers, counting down from three… two… one…

SLAM!

They burst into the kitchen, and Damon immediately recoiled, retching.

The cook – Will Lancer – had been a plump, bald man with a pot belly and the rough, paternal mannerisms of an english scholar.  He had cursed in classical book titles, and always tried to help people if they gave their best effort.  He had talented, callused hands… covered in flour and blood… chunks of the red paste spread over the floor, dangling on strings of muscle and small, yellow-white bubbles of fat.

Vlad quickly shut the door before the others could spot his cook.  He grabbed a nearby rag and held it over his nose and mouth, breathing shallowly – white visible all around his eyes – as he slowly approached the body.  Blood pooled in beads over the surface of Lancer’s large countertop; he always kept it greased or floured, depending on what he was cooking.  But now, the skin over his face, hands, and a large portion of his gut had been keenly and meticulously sliced from the delicate muscles beneath, with surgical precision.  It was almost eerie… how flawlessly it had been cut…

Vlad swallowed, eyes slowly wandering over the scene – and then, finally, fixing on Emma.  The young woman had sprawled in a dead faint by the wall.

“What happened here…?” the man breathed.

Damon could feel his senior starting to crumble.  “Mister Masters, try to just–”

“WHAT HAPPENED HERE?!”

Jazz flinched back toward Valerie.  Everyone could hear their host through the door, starting to hyperventilate, and the muffled sound of Damon trying to calm him down.  After a silent moment, Jack steeled himself and slipped through the door, urging his wife to stay behind with the others.  She didn’t seem pleased, but stayed when Maurice and Jeremy followed after him, intent on dealing with the scene before their wives and children would be subjected to more horror.  

Jack had to fight the urge to wretch at the sight of the cook, Maurice handling it only a smidgen better.

Jeremy, on the other hand, turned and threw up in a nearby bin.

Damon had finally seemed to calm Vlad back down, but the man was still pale as a sheet and his hands trembled.  Jack placed a supporting hand on his shoulder, quiet for once in his life.

“We need to wake the girl,” Damon finally said, moving away to check her pulse.  “She might have seen what happened.”

“Yes… yes of course…” Vlad murmured, coming over to his other side.  “I think there are some smelling salts in the cabinet over there.”

Maurice spotted them on a nearby shelf.  “I got ‘em.”

The elder man took them gratefully, opening the small jar and waving it under Emma’s nose.  She woke up with a start, eyes unfocused before going impossibly wide, her chest heaving as she began to hyperventilate and shriek.  The men were quick to try and calm her, holding her down.

“Miss?  Miss, you need to stay calm!”

“Monstre!” she screamed, accent heavy as she switched to her native language, voice thick with her fright.  “Il était un monstre!”*

Damon frowned.  “Monster?”

“Emma, you’re speaking French!  No one else understands what you’re SAYING!” Vlad scolded, holding her tight, trying both to calm her and to prevent her from running away again.  “What did you see?!”

“Couper en tranches et en dés, écorché comme un poisson,”*  she rambled, eyes skittering around the room blindly.  “Monstre, bête de l’enfer!  Nous allons tous mourir!”*

Vlad cradled her neck, hushing her quietly.  “Shhh… it’s alright, Emma.  C’est de’accord…”

The maid winced – then stared up at him with wide eyes, whimpering.  “C’est de’accord,” Vlad repeated, gently stroking her hair.  “Il est tout va bien se passer.*  Jack, Mister Gray?”

Not looking away from his young servant, he addressed the larger men of their party.  “There is a walk-in freezer, just there, behind the counter.  Please, will you move William into it?  And Hopson as well…?” he asked.

His voice grew husky and hushed, his fright evident to the other men.  “I… I don’t just want them lying around.”

Jack immediately got to work.  Damon hesitated slightly, but nodded; he wasn’t far behind the gentle giant.  

“W-What can we do?” Maurice asked, coming forward.  Jeremy still looked queasy.

Vlad picked up the shivering maid in his arms, holding her reassuringly to his chest.  “Go tell the women and children what happened, keep them company,” the silver-haired man murmured.  He turned, carrying her from the kitchen.  “I’m going to put Emma in my office.  It’s arguably the most secure room in this house; the windows are bullet proof and shatterproof, the walls are soundproof, and the locks are controlled by access codes only I and Hopson know– knew.  She’ll be safe there…”

Jeremy quavered nervously.  “Y-You can’t go off alone, what if–?!”

“I wish for this creature to come after me.”

The three men blinked, stunned by the low, threatening tone of their host.  A feverish light glittered in Vlad’s eyes as he stared at the door.  “If anything dares to take my servants, show them off in such a horrific way… it’s me that it’s after…”

“W-Wait, ‘IT’?!” Jack exclaimed, eyes wide.  “Vladdy, do you know something about what–?!”

The door flipped shut.

*Translations: “Monster! It was a monster!”

“Cut and sliced and diced, flayed like a fish.”  “Monster, beast of hell!  We are all going to die!“

“It’s okay…” “It’s okay.  It’s all going to be fine.”

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